‘Long hours, gruelling work’: Gourmet Traveller’s restaurant award winner calls for industry change

Back after a two-year break, the accolades acknowledge an industry in a state of flux

Tedesca Osteria has won restaurant of the year at Gourmet Traveller’s awards night, which has made an online return after being cancelled last year.

The 30-seat restaurant in Red Hill, Victoria, headed by Brigitte Hafner, is run alongside a biodynamic farm and works with a select handful of produce growers.

“I think Brigitte has proven that you can create a successful restaurant model, and a very sought-after experience, without working all hours of the day and night,” Gourmet Traveller’s editor, Joanna Hunkin, told Guardian Australia.

Dishes at Tedesca Osteria
‘It is food created in the moment from what’s in the garden, what’s available, what’s surrounding her, what’s in season,’ Joanna Hunkin says of this year’s restaurant of the year. Photograph: Parker Blain/Lee Blaylock

To Hunkin, Tedesca is an embodiment of a new approach to fine dining that may pave the way for more like it. “It is sophisticated … but it’s also casual and humble in a way.

“It is food created in the moment from what’s in the garden, what’s available, what’s surrounding her, what’s in season.”

In his announcement of the award, Gourmet Traveller state editor Michael Harden said he felt Hafner’s Tedesca was “a template for things to come”, heralding a shift away from what Hunkin called the “churn and burn” of traditional fine dining.

Hafner herself says the restaurant and hospitality industry is “going through an immense change”, one that has been sped up by the uncertainty of the last 18 months.

“I don’t think we’ve even seen the changes that are going to come out as a result of what we’ve been through,” she said.

While Hafner believes the industry’s gradual evolution was already under way, she says positive changes are accelerating, including a more sustainable work culture.

“People love this industry but maybe they don’t love how it’s treating some of their staff. I think it’s a really good thing that that’s going to evolve.

“Hospitality has typically tended to build a model on cheap labour, long, long hours, gruelling work, and I think that model needs to shift, because if you want to keep staff for a long time, that needs to be changed and improved on.”

Daniel Puskas at Sixpenny
‘It’s a challenging industry. Sometimes it’s all-encompassing,’ says Daniel Puskas, chef of the year winner. Photograph: System

Daniel Puskas of Sixpenny in New South Wales, who won the peer-voted chef of the year award, echoed Hafner’s sentiments on changing the industry’s culture and seeking balance.

“It’s a challenging industry. Sometimes it’s all-encompassing,” Puskas said.

“Having those support networks is really important for longevity in the industry. I feel you need to have consistent momentum, where you don’t feel like you need to be pushed and pushed and pushed – so you can wake up every morning and feel excited to come to work.”

In March last year, as lockdown began and restaurants were forced to shut their doors, Puskas ran a bakery out of Sixpenny that saw lines down the street in Stanmore.

Both Puskas and Hafner emphasised that, while their respective awards recognised individuals, it was through the teams at their establishments that their work was possible.

“I feel like Sixpenny won chef of the year and not me, because there’s a whole team here … a group of people who come together and do what the individual can’t,” Puskas said.

For Hafner, while it is a deeply personal project, she feels she is “only one part of the bigger Tedesca”.

“It’s like a co-op, if you like, and everyone has imparted very much of themselves in this project.”

Though chefs have always sought to take advantage of seasonal produce, disruptions to supply chains have spurred on what was already a growing conversation about eating and buying locally.

“Diners are learning about it and they’re aware of it and they’re seeking it out,” Hunkin said.

“There hasn’t [always] been the interest in knowing where your pork was raised or where your asparagus was grown, whereas now there’s a lot more interest in that.”

Hafner champions eating locally to an even greater degree.

“I started noticing over the years that the flavours were even better if they were picked on the day, so then I became obsessed about the freshness of it.”

The awards have also been gifted some serendipitous timing.

“We sent the magazine to print with the winners two weeks ago, and we didn’t even know Melbourne was going to be open,” Hunkin said. “It’s … a very happy coincidence.”

Hunkin believes the industry has stepped up to the challenge of the past 20 months. “The depths of creativity are deeper and wider than they’ve ever been – I mean, we’ve seen extraordinary things.”

Gourmet Traveller restaurant of the year winners

Restaurant of the year
Tedesca Osteria, Red Hill, Victoria

Restaurant of the year state winners

  • Tedesca Osteria

  • Saint Peter, Sydney

  • Fico, Hobart

  • Millbrook, Jarrahdale, WA

  • Restaurant Botanic, Adelaide

  • Elska, Brisbane

  • Pilot, ACT

Chef of the year
Daniel Puskas – Sixpenny, Sydney

Best new restaurant
Gimlet, Melbourne

Best new talent
Jung Eun Chae – Chae, Victoria

Restaurant personality of the year
Sharon Romeo – Fino, South Australia

Best destination dining
Oaks Kitchen and Garden, Queensland

Best wine bar
Monopole, Sydney

Outstanding contribution to hospitality
Amy Chanta, chef, restaurateur, Chat Thai

Contributor

Ann Ding

The GuardianTramp

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